Apparently spider silk—the stuff certain arachnids use when it’s time to make their webs—is like the bug-fabric equivalent of Wolverine’s adamantium skeletal structure. It’s tough stuff. It has been suggested that Black Widow silk—with its particularly impressive tensile strength—could be woven together in such a way as to create a relatively impenetrable fabric, which then could be used to create Robocop-esque battle armor.
The only problem: spiders are lazy and only want to spin web when they’re good and ready, and even then you’re only going to get enough to constitute a puny little spider web. They’re underachievers by nature, spiders; instead of partnering up and mass-producing battle-armor they just hang out in the backyard setting up silken hammocks in which to relax and gorge themselves. This is an issue for all the future spider-silk entrepreneurs being that it would take millions of strands of spider silk to create anything particularly cool. So the question becomes “How do we get these lazy bastards motivated?”
Shigeyoshi Osaki of Japan’s Nara Medical University has been working on an answer to that question for a while now and recently made an encouraging breakthrough. Dr. Osaki says he managed to produce more than 20,000 individual strands of spider silk with his factory of underage spider workers, and he used that material to create four violin strings.
Practicallyserious.com sent me over to the laboratory in Japan to ask the following three questions:
- Why the hell did I have to come all the way to Japan to ask you the following two questions?
- Is this the breakthrough we’ve been hoping for?
- Are impenetrable-armor suits next?
“No, no, I don’t think so,” said Osaki’s research assistant, Erik. “We discovered an unforeseen side-effect with the whole weaving-stuff-out-of-spider-silk idea.” Erik picked up his violin and showed it to me. There was something very gross about it, something weird about the strings, but I couldn’t quite place it. “A crap-load of bugs,” said Erik. “The violin sounds great with the spider silk, but every time I walk away I come back and there’re flies and all kinds of bugs caught and dangling helplessly from the strings, and if you wait long enough spiders come out from inside the violin’s body and start wrapping them up in spider silk getting them ready for lunch. It’s very time-consuming to clean the bugs off without breaking the strings, and if I leave them on the strings it messes with the tone and the song sucks.” Erik shook his head sadly. “In answer to question #3: I doubt any soldier’s gonna want to step into a spider web battle-suit that gets a bunch of nasty bugs all caught up in it every time you step outside the base. Plus, I’m not sure you could even call such a thing a “suit” in the first place. Really, it’s just a big human-shaped serving dish that you put yourself in. Spiders’ll love it.”
After I’d already left for America it occurred to me that Erik had simply ignored my first question.